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Non-Profit immersion program gives students outlet to cultivate professional skills

Non-Profit Immersion Program | Credit: Courtesy of TNS

The NonProfit Immersion program at Ohio State provides an opportunity for students to develop leadership and organizational skills, while learning about the inner workings of the nonprofit sector and getting hands-on experience in the field.

For one year, students serve as non-voting members of a nonprofit organization. They sit in on board meetings, collaborate to plan large-scale projects with other students and volunteer at their service organizations.

“There are ways to volunteer [for a nonprofit], but there aren’t many programs that take that next step and put you on the board,” Naomi Merino, a fourth-year in neuroscience and a current member of the program, said.

Merino serves on the advisory board of Neighborhood Services, Inc., a food pantry that provides food and material goods to people in need within the Columbus community. NSI is one of only two food pantries that serve the university district population, Merino said.

According to its website, NSI partners with Mid-Ohio Foodbank, local grocers and other organizations to stock their pantry and offers a five-day supply of food each visit according to family size.

“I’ve been at the nonprofit weekly talking with board members and get to see how they work, things you don’t see from the outside,” Merino said. “But if you prove from the get-go that you’re willing to work very hard you can serve your organization in a big way.”

For Merino, that means co-planning the “Hunger Run,” a 5k walk/run fundraiser, whose proceeds will go directly to NSI for food and supplies. The event will take place on March 24 at Fred Beekman Park and registration is $25 for students and $30 for non-students.

“Every $1 donated to the pantry provides four meals,” Merino said. “So if just one student registers, we’ll be able to provide 100 meals. And we’re hoping to have a large turnout.”

However, the types of events that students in the cohort plan vary based on the needs of their specific nonprofit and change every year, Sara Sexton, a second-year master student in public health and advisor of the program, said.

“Projects can range from database research, to developing a social media plan,” Sexton said. “The expectations are a little vague on purpose, because the goal is to serve each organization as much as possible.”

Students will also have the opportunity to expand or build upon their current skill-set, gain undergraduate experience in the nonprofit sector and have a tangible project to refer to in graduate or professional interviews, Sexton said.

“Creating projects, that’s the work I do in grad school, so getting to do that with tons and tons of support as an undergrad and not for a grade is a huge skill-building opportunity,” Sexton said.

To join next year’s cohort, participants must have a cumulative GPA of a 3.0 or higher, be at least third-year status by the fall 2019 semester and must be able to attend biweekly meetings. Students are encouraged to apply through their website now through the application deadline on March 17.

Merino said that students who are interested in learning more about nonprofits or who are thinking of getting involved with the field in the future should take a chance on joining the program, even if they are unsure.

“The experience has exceeded my expectations in pretty much every way, because going into it I had no idea what to expect,” Merino said. “But as someone who wants to work in the nonprofit sector, I made connections that will without a doubt help in my future career.”

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